Forces: Iraqi Security Forces

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May 8, 2006: The Iraqi security forces (army and police) currently have 253,000 people trained, equipped and on the job. In addition to taking care of all the police work, over two thirds of the large scale (company size and up) security operations are now carried out by Iraqis, or Iraqis working with coalition forces. By the end of the year, the Iraqi security forces are expected to reach their full strength of 325,000.

Currently, the Iraqi combat units comprise two divisions, sixteen brigades and 58 Security Force battalions. Most of the security forces are police, and the most dangerous job is that of policeman. These guys face death every day, and are the most likely to be attacked or intimidated by gangsters or terrorists.

Despite all that, there's no shortage of volunteers. For example, on May 3rd, a suicide bomber attacked applicants lined up outside a police recruiting center. Seven people were killed and over a dozen wounded. Within an hour, police and some American troops cleared the area, and recruiting activity continued. Some 65 applicants had been processed before the suicide bomber showed up, and another 88 were processed that day, after the bomb went off.

Being in the security forces is one of the better paying jobs in Iraq right now, where unemployment averages about twenty percent. The cops cope by backing off if bullied by terrorists or gangsters. The police battalions are called in to deal with the gangs or terrorists, if enough information has been collected to locate where the bad guys hang out. The cops are organized, trained and equipped to defend their station houses (which tend to resemble small forts), and few have been overrun in the last two years. But in some neighborhoods, especially Sunni Arab areas, or Shia Arab ones "occupied" by Islamic radical militias, the police move carefully, and often ineffectually.

Some of the special police battalions (SWAT, or semi-SWAT) have also been infiltrated by members of Shia militias, and members of the special police have been found operating like death squads, settling old scores with Saddam's Sunni Arab thugs, or just Sunni Arabs in general. The problem here, as it is throughout the Iraqi security services, is leadership. For decades, the only ones allowed to hold commands in the security forces were Sunni Arabs, and they were rated on loyalty to Saddam, and then their ability to keep the population under control. So the military and police leadership has had to be built practically from scratch. Some Sunni Arabs were considered reliable enough to serve again, but many of the officers and NCOs are newly created, or promoted from much lower ranks held in the Saddam era police and army. Many of these new leaders have spent most of their time, during the past two years, getting professional training. It will take another few years before the results of all this leadership training show up. In the meantime, inexperienced and poorly trained officers and NCOs try, as best they can, to deal with powerful gangs of terrorists, rebels and common criminals. Many of the police commanders give in to threats or bribes (or both). Creating a professional, and honest, leadership for the security forces will take a while. If the job isn't done, there won't be peace in Iraq.

 


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